Spain apathetically votes 'si' to EU constitution

21st February 2005, Comments 0 comments

21 February 2005, MADRID- Spain became the first European Union country to agree to the new European constitution in a referendum that Spanish and European officials hoped would show the way for other countries with polls to come.

21 February 2005

MADRID- Spain became the first European Union country to agree to the new European constitution in a referendum that Spanish and European officials hoped would show the way for other countries with polls to come.

Figures released by the interior ministry showed the Europhile Spaniards had said a resounding "Yes" to the EU text, with nearly four in five of those casting ballots voting in favour.

Just over 42 percent of the electorate turned out to vote.

"Our vote is a message to our fellow EU citizens who were awaiting our decision. Today Europe won, the EU constitution won, Spain won," Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said, inviting neighbouring EU states "to follow Spain's path."

His optimism was shared by fellow countryman Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief and one of the 25-nation bloc's top officials.

"I am convinced that the results in Spain will have a positive impact in consultations that will take place in other EU member states in the coming months," Solana said.

In theory all 25 states have to back the text, designed to streamline decision-making in the expanding European Union, before it can come into effect.

Ten EU countries, including Spain and nations with strong eurosceptic camps like Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic, have decided to put the constitution to a popular vote.

The remaining 15 member states of the bloc, including the largest nation, Germany, have preferred parliamentary ratification.

Beyond Spain, parliaments of Slovenia, Lithuania and Hungary have already ratified the text, as has the lower house of the Italian parliament, though the Italian upper chamber still has to approve the text.

The level of turnout in Spain of more than 42 percent -- or 14 million voters-outstripped analysts' forecasts of a showing of below 40 percent.

Nonetheless it was the lowest in any vote since the restoration of democracy following the death of military dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975, prompting opposition parties to dub the result a slap in the face for Zapatero's Socialist government.

In previous referendums-for political reform in 1976, for a democratic constitution in 1978 and to stay in NATO in 1986- turnout ranged from 60 to 78 percent.

The referendum is purely consultative and parliament will ultimately have to ratify the decision.

The 34.6 million eligible voters were asked the simple question: "Do you approve the treaty instituting a constitution for Europe?"

King Juan Carlos, who does not vote in general elections, was among the first to cast his ballot in Madrid along with Queen Sofia.

Spain has been the primary beneficiary of EU structural aid since it joined what was then the European Community in 1986 but the aid will in future be spread more thinly following last year's enlargement to poorer ex-communist nations.

"Yes" votes were high across the board but dipped in the northern Basque region and Catalonia, where moderate nationalists govern at regional level.

Five fringe parties opposed the constitution, saying the text did not go far enough towards creating a social Europe of the regions.

Heavy security was on hand across Spain for the vote with some 106,000 police on duty, according to media reports, amid worries that Basque armed separatist group ETA was planning an attack.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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